What is the Paris Agreement?
The “Paris Agreement” is an international framework on climate change issues from 2020 that was adopted by the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) held in Paris in 2015. It is the successor to the “Kyoto Protocol” adopted in 1997. The Paris Agreement came into effect on November 4, 2016 and currently 188 countries are participating in it ( including the United States, which is leaving from The Paris Agreement in November 2020).
The Paris Agreement has bottom-up “medium-term goals” determined by each ratifying country, and “long-term goals” for 2050 and beyond determined by the agreement. For medium-term goals, the Japanese government has committed to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% compared to 2013.” This target is set up with the assumption that 20-22% of electricity is generated by nuclear power stations which emit zero CO2 while generating the power. This might be overestimated, because, the share of electricity generated by nuclear power plants is just a few percent as of today in 2020. 26% reduction is a tough target, however, it is calculated based on the serious study between the government and industry, as well as there is methodology behind it, so it is expected to be achieved albeit with some delay.
Meanwhile, the long-term goals are top-down:
- a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels;
- to aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change;
- on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible, recognising that this will take longer for developing countries;
- to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with the best available science, so as to achieve a balance between emissions and removals in the second half of the century.
According to the trial calculations by Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, achieving this target requires a reduction of 80% in greenhouse gas emissions. As described in the Plan for Global Warming Countermeasures1 decided by the Cabinet on May 13, 2016, “Based on the Paris Agreement, under a fair and effective international framework applicable to all major Parties, Japan leads the international community so that major emitters undertake emission reduction in accordance with their capacities, and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 as its long-term goal, while pursuing global warming countermeasures and economic growth at the same time. Such a deep cut in emissions is difficult to achieve through the extension of existing measures. Therefore, Japan pursues solutions through innovation such as the development and deployment of innovative technologies which enable drastic emission reductions, while at the same time promoting domestic investment, enhancing international competitiveness, and asking citizens for their opinions, with the aim of achieving a deep cut in emissions through long-term, strategic actions and contributing to global GHG emission reductions.”
Effect of COVID-19 on reducing greenhouse gas emissions
An article2 on Carbon Brief, a UK-based website focused on climate change analysis, dated April 9, 2020, said that global greenhouse gas emissions for 2020 are projected to decline by 5.5% year-on-year, greater even than during the Great Depression or World War II and the largest ever annual drop in history, but that it will still be difficult to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. And referring to a calculation3 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report released in November 2019, which said, “unless global greenhouse gas emissions fall by 7.6 per cent each year (until) 2030, the world will miss the opportunity to get on track towards the 1.5°C temperature goal (compared to the pre-industrial level) of the Paris Agreement”, it pointed out that “it is extremely difficult to maintain such reductions for 10 years.” Furthermore, it warned that “the current crisis may only temporarily reduce emissions” due to the close correlation between emission levels and economic activity, and the fact that emissions will obviously start increasing again when economic activity resumes.
In other words, UNEP has pointed out that even if the level of economic slowdown that we are currently experiencing due to the COVID-19 situation were to continue for the next 10 years before a recovery, we would not be able to achieve the 2050 greenhouse gas emission reduction target (naturally, UNEP is not suggesting that there should be a catastrophe such as COVID-19 every year).
What does “pre-industrial” mean?
While the Industrial Revolution in Britain occurred between the mid-18th century and the first half of the 19th century and then spread to countries worldwide, the Paris Agreement does not specifically state what years were “pre-industrial”. Based on the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) definition of “pre-industrial temperatures”, which is the “average temperature from 1850, when modern methods of temperature measurements began, to 1900,” pre-industrial means 1850, at which time the world population was 1.2 to 1.3 billion, about one-sixth of what it is today.
Since the CO2 exhaled by humans is considered as carbon neutral*, it does not affect greenhouse gas emission levels. Even if we live at the cultural standards of the period around 1850, which from a Japanese perspective is the time the country opened up following the Japan and US Treaty of Peace and Amity (1854) or when the Second Empire of Napoleon III began in France (1852), we would consume six times more energy (although actually the energy mix has changed, so it probably would not be so big) than “pre-industrial” levels. Or in other words, we would emit six times more greenhouse gases.
There is no data on to what extent a “1.5-2 degree temperature rise” allows for “additional” greenhouse gas emissions, but it is necessary to keep in mind that one of the causes of current “global warming due to increased greenhouse gas emissions” is “population increase.” It goes without saying that depopulation, other than due to natural causes, in order to bring about reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is ethically unacceptable, but surely some control is required in order for it to “not increase blindly.” According to the 2019 Revision of World Population Prospects: Summary published by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, the world population in 2050 is expected to reach 9.7 billion people (an increase of 30% from today), and without such innovation as the development and diffusion of new technology, there will be no solution to the problem of greenhouse gases. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications “Current Population Estimates (2016)”, Japan’s population is expected to decrease from 127.4 million in 2013 by more than 20% to approximately 100 million by 2050.
*CO2 exhaled by humans is the final discharge in the process of breaking down organic substances taken into the body as food and extracting its energy. The origin of that food can be traced back to the organic substance of plants that photosynthesize CO2 and water in the atmosphere. So, the CO2 exhaled by human breathing can be thought of as having been “originally present in the atmosphere.” However, greenhouse gases emitted in the process of cultivating and raising food are counted separately, and methane gas, which has a greenhouse effect 20 times that of CO2, from the burping of animals such as cattle and sheep accounts for more than one-third of global emissions (it is unavoidable for ruminants, as they breathe, to emit methane gas generated during digestion). Therefore, the increasing food demand that accompanies population growth also leads to rising greenhouse gas emissions.
The north-south divide
The Paris Agreement is a framework that requires all participating countries, including developing countries, to undertake efforts to reduce emissions.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, only developed countries had a legal obligation to reduce emissions. However, since the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997, developing countries have seen rapid economic development, which has resulted in a sharp increase in their emissions. The fact that developing countries were not obliged to reduce their emissions became a factor in creating a sense of inequality among the participating countries, which in turn was partly behind the United States’ decision not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, in spite of being the largest emitter at the time, and brought into question the effectiveness of the Protocol. In that respect, the Paris Agreement is said to have been a breakthrough.
In fact, looking at the share of greenhouse gas emissions by country in 20174, China ranked first with 28.2% ahead of the United States in second (14.5%), with India in third with 6.6% and Russia in fourth with 4.7% (Japan is in fifth with a 3.4% share of greenhouse gas emissions).
Looking at the medium-term goals for 2030 set by the major emerging and developing countries:
- China: CO2 emissions relative to GDP to be cut by 60-65% from 2005 levels, with peak CO2 emissions to be achieved around 2030.
- India: greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 33-35% relative to GDP by 2030 (but with the addition that “realizing this goal is dependent on an ambitious global agreement that includes implementation means provided by developed countries”)
- Russia: reduction of 25-30% in 2030 from 2005 levels.
- Indonesia (9th place in emissions, 1.5% share): greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 29% compared to BAU* by 2030. May be reduced by up to 41%, conditional on the international transfer of technology and funding.
- Mexico (10th place emission, 1.4% share): greenhouse gas and short-lived climate pollutant emissions to be reduced by 25% compared to BAU (including 22% reduction in greenhouse gases only) by 2030. However, it could be reduced to a maximum of 40% (of which only 36% for GHG only) conditional on financial and technological support.
* BAU: Business As Usual, “No measures undertaken”
According to the October 2019 edition of the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Database, of the world’s 190 or so countries, 122 countries have a nominal GDP per capita of less than $10,000, in 80 countries it is less than $5,000, and in 26 countries it is not even $1,000. While it is true that these countries cannot develop unless the earth is “sustained”, for the developed countries that have enjoyed economic development by using cheap fossil fuels to demand that developing countries not use fossil fuels because “the global environment is important” could impede the improvement of living standards for poor people in developing countries and lead to enduring inequality, something which must not be allowed to happen.
On the other hand, as developing countries proceed to become high-carbon societies in the same way as developed countries before them, based on mass production and mass consumption and through the mass consumption of fossil fuels, global greenhouse gas emissions will increase and global warming will worsen. So, rather than preventing global warming, reducing emissions in developed countries alone might possibly accelerate global warming. In order to develop measures against global warming without hampering the economic progress of developing countries, it is necessary to create a frog jump system, and technology transfer and financial support from developed countries are essential to achieving that.
As I hope to have the opportunity to explain another time, in addition to the above, in order to provide a supply of electricity through renewable energy, which is highly volatile due to climate (amount of sunlight and wind speed) as the main power source, it will be necessary to either have power plants that run at a low operating rate (= high cost) as a backup for power plants that use fossil fuels with their very flexible supply levels, or construct solar/wind power plants with the capacity to generate enough power to meet several times the peak demand, and use the excess power to charge storage batteries (which generate a large amount of CO2 during their manufacture and disposal) that can be discharged at night or when there is no wind (it has been calculated that while the cost of storing the energy from one barrel of oil is $200 at present, the cost to store a single barrel of oil is about $1). Although there are some aspects of reducing greenhouse gases that are complicated, it is my unwavering hope that innovation through the application of collective human wisdom will solve a variety of these problems and bring about a carbon-neutral world.